Doreen Chowdhury: On January 21st, 2023, all hell broke loose in Monterey Park, California, when a gunman opened fire in a crowded place. The residents were celebrating the Chinese Lunar New Year there at that time. That fateful night claimed 12 lives and injured 9 more. The incident was covered by newspapers worldwide. Within the next 48 hours, another incident of mass shooting took place in Half Moon Bay that claimed 7 more lives.
However, these are not the first incidents of mass shooting this year, rather these incidents got media attention due to the high number of casualties. Mass shootings and gun violence are inducing insecurity within US society. It is also adversely affecting the societal fabric of the US.
Mass Shooting Scenario
According to the Gun Violence Archive (GVA) data, the Half Moon Bay incident is the 38th recorded mass shooting incident in the USA. Currently (24th January), the rate of incidents per day is 1.58. In these 38 incidents, 69 people were killed and 169 were injured.
In 2022, there were 647 incidents recorded by GVA. The situation was further grim in 2021 as 690 mass shooting incidents took place that year.
Almost all public place has been affected by mass shooting including Church, school, public gathering, bars, and restaurants. As a result, public places have also been securitized heavily. After the Uvalde elementary school shooting, there were reports of employing armed security guards at schools in many states. Many schools also armed the teacher to prevent mass shootings. However, such securitization policies also sparked further debate with whom the responsibility for providing a safe environment lies, and whether it would reduce or escalate the risk of shootings.
As mass shooting is an unprecedented event without any prior alarm, it is also inducing insecurity in US public life. Common citizens do not have the guarantee that they won’t be the next victim. As a result, it is also forcing the citizens to increase their defensive gear, namely buying more firearms; ultimately creating a vicious circle of insecurity and distrust among the community. The public support for gun law amendment is also affected by this vicious circle, as according to Gallup Survey, public support for stricter gun law has fallen from 66% last year to 57% this year.
Where does the Problem Lie?
The problem of mass shootings lies within the American gun culture. Even though many defend it as an American heritage, it is deeply rooted within the settler culture of the country. Such colonial and settler culture is unfit in the modern civilized world considering the risk factors and the empirical evidence.
According to the Small Arms Survey, the US is the world’s top civilian gun-owning country with 120 firearms per 100 residents- a number more than double of Yemen- a country affected by civil war and domestic instability. In number, the US had 390 million civilian-possessed firearms in 2018. Such a large number of gun possession also impact the country’s homicide landscape as 79% of homicide cases were carried out by firearms. In 2022, 44 thousand civilians lost their lives from gunshots; more than half committed suicide.
The lack of political will and consciousness are also the reasons behind rampant gun violence and mass shooting. Political parties and their ‘gun lobbies’ do not want to pass effective policies to restrain civilians from gun-owning. The settler mindset within the larger US society and the attraction of vote banks are the common reasons behind such politics.
In the aftermath of the Monterey Park shooting, President Joe Biden urged Congress Monday, January 23rd to pass a pair of bills seeking to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and raise the purchasing age to 21, imploring lawmakers to “act quickly.” However, such bills may hardly contribute anything to the current scenario considering the wide age range of the shooters and the weapons they used. The Monterey Park Shooter is a 72 years old man who used a handgun to kill 12 people and injure 9. The ‘arming Teacher’ incidents in the aftermath of the Uvalde elementary school shooting also sparked a new debate on safety and security and hardly contributed anything to the issue. The ultimate issue to address in this regard is the settler culture of civilian gun possession that enables a person to turn into a shooter.
However, such settler culture is adversely affecting American society by increasing violent trends, civilian insecurity, and deteriorating the social fabric of US society. It is also deteriorating US human rights scenario also.
The US is considered the Champion of Human Rights in the world. Yet its mass shooting and gun violence are worrisome issues that are affecting the US domestically. And at the center of the problem lies an old settler culture that is unfit for the current world. In the Westphalian state system, one of the basic characteristics of the state is to possess a legitimate monopoly over means of violence. Civilian gun possession at this scale in the US is contradicting the characteristics of the state.
Besides, the Biden administration is also prioritizing democracy and Human Rights in its foreign relations. Therefore, it also brings the debate of hypocrisy in US policy. Lastly, the US should address its domestic concerns; for which it must give up its settler culture and introduce effective gun possession laws going beyond the ‘gun lobby’ interest.
Author: Doreen Chowdhury is a doctoral researcher at the University of Groningen.